As I sat at the joint hearing on the school and county budgets Monday night (April 29), I could not help but be impressed by the speakers. I wish to congratulate all that came out to speak! It is not always easy to speak out in a public forum and even more difficult when what you say differs with others at the meeting. Whether you are a proponent of something or not, there is always the other side.
What really caught my attention, and I have commented on this in the past, is how many people will come to a board of supervisors (BoS) hearing and complain about the school board’s decisions. For example, Mr. Dietel stated it was time to correct the errors of the past and make up for the deferred maintenance of the buses. The BoS has year-after-year appropriated funds for vehicle maintenance that somehow do not seem to make it there. This same phenomenon happened with school building maintenance for years, but I won’t mention that since it is old news. If anyone decides to defer maintenance on anything, it’s the school board.
The school board, in this year’s budget, has included a list of buses with age, mileage, etc., showing two replacement engines last year. Both had relatively low mileage for diesel engines, one at 138,000 and the other about 70,000 miles. Now, I’m not any kind of a diesel expert but have worked around and performed light work on a few, and this seemed odd. Supporting documents said the blocks were cracked. Just looking at my immediate family that includes myself, three brothers-in-law and one brother, our sons and sons-in-law, we have a combined diesel “fleet” of 36 engines counting pickups, medium-duty trucks, tractors, etc., and have yet to encounter a cracked block requiring an engine replacement.
Thinking about this, I called a Thomas bus dealer; his comment was that this was most uncommon with these vehicles. These engines and drive trains are designed to last at least 500,000 miles per industry standards. Some well-intentioned but misinformed proponents of budget increases wish to flip these buses, some with as few as 70,000 miles, at a ridiculous formula of 10-year replacement cycle. Fauquier keeps their buses 18-20 years barring structural issues, Fairfax 20 years. Clarke keeps their buses going for 200,000 miles.
At the April 3 joint public meeting of the school board and supervisors, a bus driver stated that water for engine coolant had to be hauled on this bus going to Chester Gap. This is gross negligence on the part of the bus shop supervision and violates commercial vehicle laws which requires “pre-trip inspections” before the bus ever leaves the parking lot. This bus should have been taken out of service and repaired before the engine was ruined. Parents should be outraged that the students were being used as political pawns for new buses by persons involved in bus shop/transportation supervision. If this bus had broken down on the route, fingers would have been pointed at the mean ol’ board of supervisors. Taxpayers without children in the schools should be outraged that their tax dollars were being wasted by most likely ruining a good engine.
Time and time again speakers would mention mishandling of the public monies at the school board level and this really shows that most of the speakers, while passionate about good schools, education, etc., really don’t realize how the system works. The school board asks for money and when it is appropriated, by the supervisors’ approval of a bottom-line figure, then they are free to spend it and move it around throughout their budget as needed or desired.
I have been one to applaud the school board in the past on returning monies unspent to the county, but what is there to applaud when maintenance is being overlooked and teachers are spending their own money for classroom supplies?
At this point and in the larger picture it is time for both boards and the taxpayers to work together to become educated on the processes, hold both boards accountable and the employees. It is the BoS’s fiduciary responsibility to appropriate monies for the operation of the school system and to see that it is being used as appropriated. It is also the school board’s obligation to see that the monies are spent in a wise and necessary manner. It is equally the responsibility of the employees to safeguard the investment of these resources in the day-to-day use of them. Resources are too precious to waste, and the students desire and deserve far better!